The Day I became a Desert Rat

I wasn’t planning on running a marathon last weekend. I originally was going to do the half marathon distance – but I’d been doing 12-14 miles on the weekend and doing 13 wasn’t really going to benefit my training. In spite of the fact that I’m supposed to be training for a 50 mile race in June, my weekly mileage has been quite paltry.  My work schedule has been hectic, and honestly my motivation has been in the toilet.   In some temporary delusional state of mind, I thought I should just do the marathon distance – just as a supported training run. No pressure to finish or go a certain pace.  Just a group run with aid stations – but then I looked at the entry fee 2 weeks before the race date and didn’t really want to part with $100. I whined about it on Twitter and to Wayne – subconsciously hoping someone would talk me out of spending the money. Wayne’s response – “just register”. In case you don’t know, he’s never one to let me off easy.  Next thing I know, I’m registered for the Gemini Adventures Desert Rats Trail Running Festival Marathon.

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Nothing fancy for race day – just the usual gear.

I started stalking the weather the week of the race and a nasty rain storm and cold front were on the agenda. I was less than thrilled to consider running those trails in the mud.  They are fairly technical and some sections have fantastic drop offs.  I fretted about the rain and weather all week making myself crazy with checking the weather app on my phone.  For being a “no pressure long run” I was stressing more than I have for any other race.  Honestly it was quite ridiculous.

I crawled into bed Friday night around 9:30 hoping to get some good sleep but fretted and tossed and turned all night worried and anxious about what was supposed to be “no pressure” event.  Woke up at 4:30 am, made coffee, and tried to get down my usual peanut butter toast pre-run breakfast. Managed 2 sips of coffee and 2 bites of plain toast – my stomach was in knots.

The event was in Mack, CO, which is an easy 15 minute drive from the house.   The race started at 6:30 with plenty of day light, but it was windy, cloudy and cold – about 45 degrees with 15-20 mph winds.  A big storm in the mountains kept a lot of runners from making it to the race, so it was a smaller crowd than anticipated. Wayne and I were chatting about the absence of porta pottys on the trail and the possibility of seeing lots of butts on the trail, when Wayne says, ‘There’s one already’, and sure enough a man was standing next to his SUV lubing up his butt with Body Glide.  Surely this was a sign that it would be a great day. We chatted with a couple first time marathon runners and took a traditional starting line selfie.

I love the small races with a casual line up at the start/finish, with an announcer doing a simple count down from ten to zero to start the race. Off we went down the dirt road for the first mile, up a hill to the trail head to hit Moore Fun for the first trail section.  I’ve run this section several times and knew what I was in for. It’s a technical section that climbs for 2 miles, so I knew there would be lots of hiking going on, but I knew what to look forward to on the backside.  I had run this trail most recently with another Angela from the local run club who had apologized for leaving me at the top of the hill, but she wanted to “bomb” the downhill. As I made my way over the summit I thought, ‘It’s THIS Angela’s turn to bomb the downhill’.  I was feeling confident and solid on the rocks, strong and happy as I hit a smooth single track at the bottom with my arms outstretched like a little girl pretending to be an airplane

Airplane

…and then I heard it…the cowbell!  Wayne was beckoning me in, waiting at the first aid station. Somewhere on that first stretch of trail, the nerves disappeared and my hunger reappeared. When the aid station volunteer asked how I was, my immediate reply was “Hungry!” Six  miles and 90 minutes in and I knew if I didn’t get on top of my hunger I was going to be in a bad place later. I considered that I might have already put myself behind the 8 ball.  I grabbed a whole banana, a few potato chips, had the volunteer help me find my chap-stick, and headed towards Wrangler’s Loop.

I knew I had a short steep climb ahead and used the opportunity to eat my banana and part of a Clif bar. As I made it to the where Wrangler’s turns into Mary’s Loop, I was feeling good, knowing where I would run and where I would be hiking.  I stopped to take a picture of the beautiful cactus that were starting to bloom.

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As I hiked to the river overlook, I munched on the Clif bar. Once I got there, I had a promise to keep  – I stopped and sang “Ain’t no mountain high enough” on video to my friend Christina – which became one of my theme songs for the day.

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Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough!

Across the backside of Mary’s loop and into the 3rd aid station at about mile 9, which was only water, Tailwind & gels.  I nabbed a gel, just in case, but just couldn’t bring myself to down one. Sorry Lisa.  🙂

The next section was Steve’s Loop, definitely one of the most scenic trails of the day. The route through here is run-able single track, except for a couple sections that required climbing off a rock, or climbing up and over a rock. I ran most of this section, just keeping it nice and easy.  I was singing and enjoying the scenery.  I know it’s a race, but I just can’t be out there and not take time to appreciate the beauty and joy of the amazing creation we live in.

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The trail becomes a bit of a wash and sandy and a little more hiking was going on when I heard it again – the cowbell!  I looked up and there was Wayne sitting on an overlook.  My head and my pace picked up as I cruised into the 13 mile aid station – which was stocked with pb&j roll-ups and….WATERMELON!!! I took that first juicy bite and said, ‘I love you’ to the volunteer. Two pieces of melon and a roll-up and up Lion’s Loop I went.

I had run this section last weekend, and thought I was ready to do it again.  This was to be the longest stretch between aid stations with almost 7 miles to the next one. On the climb to the top, a man passed me, only to get 100 yards away and double over.  I asked if he was okay and what was going on.  He had eaten something out of the ordinary that morning and had been fighting a miserable gas pain all morning.  He apologized for talking about gross stuff, like needing to fart, but I reminded him that runners talk about gross stuff together because we all deal with the same stuff.  I pondered telling him my sad story about starting my period earlier that morning and having cramps and that I was searching for a rock to squat behind to change my tampon, but I didn’t. Instead, Mom-mode activated and I  told him “Lay down, it will pass. This is as good of a place as you’re gonna get. Find a spot and stretch out.” He sprawled himself over a rock, assured me he was okay, and I left him to his farting as I continued the climb to the top. ( I did find a rock to take care of my business and down a couple of Advil.)

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Out of the aid station…
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…and up Lion’s Loop…
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…heading to Troy Built

It was along this next windy and windy section of Troy Built that I started to falter. I felt my energy tank and I noticed my hands were looking quite puffy, which worried me.  My forearms were starting to hurt and my stomach just didn’t feel right. My legs weren’t hurting but were feeling tingly as I ran.  I kept hearing Melissa tell me, ‘There’s lots of walking in ultras’ and so starting around mile 15 that’s exactly what I did.  I was telling myself all the things that I heard and I knew.  Just keep moving.  Listen to your body.  If you’re in a rough patch, keep moving.  It will pass.  The climbs were getting tougher and slower and I felt like maybe I wasn’t going to finish. The wind had been blowing all day, but on this furthest west section it was brutal, sometimes stopping me in my tracks, taking my breath away, and almost knocking me off my feet. I just kept moving forward, sometimes very slowly. I thought maybe I had eaten too much at one time at the last aid station, but as the rough patch continued, I realized it had been a while since I ate, so I pulled out a Mamma Chia and ate it down.  My body needed food.  I nibbled on my Clif bar and kept moving.  It was around this time that the first double marathoner flew by me in the opposite direction, looking as fresh as a 5k.  I tried to run the flat and downhill sections but kept it very easy.  Finally the trail peaks and starts through some switchbacks to the the trail head when that magical sound hit my ears again – COWBELL!  I looked up and saw Wayne at the rim up ahead and above me. That sound was like a light from a light house. And again I started singing, There ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough, to keep me from getting to you babe!

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Relentless forward progress…just move towards the cowbell!

As I slogged into the aid station, he walked along side and I asked him to look at my hands.  I was still worried about them being puffy.  He grabbed them and said, ‘You’re nice and warm.  They look fine.’ And then… I saw Chelsea and her boyfriend Zack at the end of the road, whooping and hollering and cheering for me and my heart just melted.  On my way into this aid station, I was almost convinced that I wanted to quit.  Call it a 20 mile training day and go home and get out of the wind. But then Wayne told me I was doing great, kicking ass, and the kids were there and I knew I couldn’t quit.  At the aid table, I told the volunteer, ‘I’ve heard that when you don’t feel like doing anything, you should eat.’  He looked me in the eye and said, ‘When all else fails, eat.  Now get a sandwich.’ I grabbed a pb&j on wheat bread, a piece of watermelon, called out ‘Thanks for not letting me quit’and headed out for the steepest section of the day.

It was a jeep trail – a road – but it was a steep son-of-a-bitch for almost 2 miles.  I pulled my phone out, and had 4% battery life left.  I had a text message from my sister Jolie, “You got this!! Steady on!!! Beats the treadmill any day. You’re my runner hero!!!” It was like a shot of adrenaline. I replied with a simple ‘I love you’ and decided to use the last of my battery  life to listen to music to get me up this hill.  Till I Collapse, Right Now, Fergalicious, Run Like Hell, and then, just for Jolie, Steady as She Goes. And finally, by the grace of God and with a little help from my family, I made it to the top of the hill, and was rewarded with the most amazing view I had seen all day….and no battery life to take a picture. I stood at the top of that ridge, looked across the river at a majestic creation, threw my arms out, looked up at the sky and said, ‘I’m gonna finish this thing.’ Across Mack Ridge I started to run with a little life in my step…my rough patch had passed.  A couple mountain bikers came down the trail, with encouraging words, ‘You’re doing great.  You’re almost there.’  ‘Yes, Ma’am I am’, I told her.  The wind continued to blow and the clouds were rolling in and I just kept singing and running.  Down the ridge I went, carefully maneuvering the rocks and slides.  I was so close and no way did I want to roll an ankle or face plant at this point.  Around one last corner and there was the trail head.  Woooo hooooo I’m gonna make it!  I’m gonna finish this thing.

All I have left is to run a mile or so down the road to the finish line.  I slowed to walk up a hill when I flash-backed to my first marathon finish – walking up that last hill before the finish line with Brice – and suddenly he was there with me again.

I’m just gonna walk to that tree there, Brice, and then I’ll run.

You got this, Mom.  You can run a little bit.  You got this, Mom.

And then the tears came – a half mile from the finish and all the emotion of the day came pouring out. And then I looked further down the road – and there was my Chelsea  – cheering me across the finish line. The second time that day that seeing her put a lift in my step and kept me moving forward. And of course, there at the finish line was my best friend and crew chief and cheerleader, Wayne, with that look in his eyes that says so much without saying a word.  He was proud of me – and I was proud of me.

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Tears of joy and overcoming and accomplishment

I finished with a time of 7:03 and placed second in my age group, although it should be said that there were only two women in my age group. I wasn’t planning on running a marathon last weekend…but I sure am glad I did.

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Finished happy with my family!

Note: The man with the gas pain took this last picture. He thanked me for the good advice, and unofficially voted me Mom-of-the-day. That beats 2nd place any day!

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5 comments

  1. Your races are always adventures and your recaps make me feel like I was there with you. Being less-than-prepared for a tough marathon should be a confidence booster as you get closer to your 50. Congrats on finishing a tough race and not giving up.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Incredible journey for you Angela! The cactus was beautiful, the tampon story hilarious, and the Brice part brought tears to my eyes! Congrats on your achievement 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Outstanding race report! Every time you do something scary it just makes you stronger and when you share so openly and with so much gratitude it inspires the rest of us to do the same.

    Like

  4. […] – to run the North Fork 50 mile trail race on June 4. Part of that training was running the Desert Rats Trail Running Festival – you can read about that on my previous post. I made arrangements to participate in a training run on the North Fork course the week after the […]

    Like

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